National Academies Press: OpenBook

Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals (2023)

Chapter:Chapter 3 - Survey of Public Agencies

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Page 11
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey of Public Agencies." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26898.
Page 12
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey of Public Agencies." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26898.
Page 13
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey of Public Agencies." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26898.
Page 14
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey of Public Agencies." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26898.
Page 15
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey of Public Agencies." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26898.

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11   Survey of Public Agencies A survey was developed and administered as part of this study to gain greater understand- ing of the state of the practice for pedestrian crossing treatments at intersections and midblock locations. The survey was reviewed by the research team before being sent to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals listservs. Responses were received from 23 agencies, and follow-up discussions occurred with selected agencies to clarify answers submitted in the responses. Survey questions asked specifically about the types of treatments used to address pedestrian safety (e.g., full traffic signals, pedestrian hybrid beacons, rectangular rapid flashing beacons, half signals, and MPSs) and supporting elements (e.g., in-pavement warning lights, pedes- trian crossing signs, crosswalk markings and signs). Many questions about these specific elements also included an “other” option with space for respondents to provide information about treatments not listed on the survey. Topics for the treatments included methods of detection for people walking and bicycling and operations for timing the devices, including coordination. Information about the Agencies Responding to the Survey The survey was answered by 23 agencies interested in MPSs. The practitioners who responded to the survey had a minimum of 5 years of experience, with the majority reporting more than 15 years. One of the department of transportation (DOT) responses indicated the agency had fewer than 100 traffic signals, which could mean most of the agency’s signals are managed by others. A question asked whether the agency is a “Vision Zero community” to determine if the focus of investments would be oriented toward safety. Most of the survey respondents were cities across the country from Anchorage, AK, to Fayetteville, AR, and Pittsburgh, PA. Four state DOTs (Utah, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Washington) responded, and only one respondent represented multiple agencies. The results of this survey revealed that most of the respondents (68%) have declared Vision Zero the community objective. Approximately 42% of respondents were agencies that have more than 500 signals (the number of signals generally relates to a larger population served and potential for more crossings). All the respondents described safety as one of their agency’s primary goals; 90% indicated mobility is similarly important, and multimodal transportation was mentioned by 57% of the respondents, with equity (32%), climate (23%), and asset management (18%) being selected as well. C H A P T E R 3

12 Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals Experience with Pedestrian Crossing Treatments The use of pedestrian crossing treatments was quite diverse. Agencies were asked, “what types of treatments for pedestrian crossings do you typically use at unsignalized intersections in your region?” The most frequent responses were medians and street lighting. PHBs are used by 70% of the agencies that responded to the survey, and MPSs are used by 78% of the agencies. With respect to midblock pedestrian crossings, most of the agencies said they treat midblock locations similarly to intersections in that they use a variety of treatments. The most common types of midblock crossing treatments were RRFBs, MPSs, and PHBs. Alternatives to beacon or signal installations included street lighting, pedestrian medians, in-pavement warning lights, pedestrian crossing signs with LEDs, and crossing markings and signs. Several respondents discussed traffic signal warrants as being part of the process in making treatment decisions. MPSs can be installed using the traditional traffic signal warrants already in the MUTCD. A respondent noted that the California MUTCD offers warrants for MPSs. Many of the MPSs in California were constructed prior to the availability of the PHB in the MUTCD and prior to the RRFB. For the agencies surveyed, the number of PHBs installed varies greatly since these are relatively new compared to the other treatments on the list. Nearly 35% of the agencies have one to three PHBs in use, and 22% of the agencies have more than 10 PHBs; about 10% of the agencies noted that a significant number of additional PHBs are planned. The survey included the question, “if your agency does not use PHBs or other devices, why not?” The most common reasons for choosing not to use PHBs were lack of intuitive operation (drivers ignoring or not understanding the action necessary at dark beacons) the flashing/wig-wag being reserved for use at railroad crossings and PHBs being different, and assertions that RRFBs provide nearly as much improvement at much less cost. Other reasons identified for not using PHBs include the MUTCD warrant being too high for most situations and the MPSs (e.g., a green-yellow-red display) being preferred. In Pennsylvania, the use of PHBs is not legal per the Motor Vehicle Code. Adoption of MPSs was similar to the use of PHBs for the agencies surveyed. Of these agencies, 78% have at least one MPS, and six of the 23 agencies reported having more than 20 (Sacramento, CA, Fayetteville, AR, Omaha, NE, Los Angeles, CA, New York City, and Utah DOT). Selecting Treatments Engineering studies are used to determine appropriate crossing treatments for midblock conditions. Two published resources used when determining treatments for pedestrian crossings are NCHRP Report 562 (3) and the FHWA Guide for Improving Pedestrian Safety at Uncontrolled Crossing Locations (25). These documents are often cited as some of the most widely used in the industry due to their ease of use. Several agencies identified the use of other resources to address the conditions, including state or local guidelines, which often reference similar criteria as NCHRP or the FHWA. The other important data input for selecting improvement sites was pedestrian crash data. The criterion most considered when determining treatments for pedestrian crossings was pedestrian (and bicycle) demand, with the following also being selected frequently: traffic volumes, traffic speeds, roadway widths/geometry, sight distance, and whether a median/ no median is present or can be added. Other criteria include adjacent land use, the distance to the next enhanced crossing, and the cost.

Survey of Public Agencies 13 When asked to identify why the agency would select one treatment over another, there was a significant range of ideas offered. RRFBs were being used in some cases and not in others (crossing multiple lanes was mentioned as a concern). School crossings were a focus for a few of the respondents, and cost was also referenced as a concern for the selection of treatments. The need for distance between crossings was also mentioned with the MPSs. Vision Zero is a global movement to end traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by taking a systemic approach to road safety. Given that most of the agencies reported the goal of zero deaths, the research team assumed a systemic approach to safety would be frequently cited. The systemic approach to safety is a data-driven process that involves analytical techniques to identify sites for potential safety improvement and suggests projects for safety investment not typically identified through the traditional site analysis approach. Several of the agencies surveyed (39%) do not have a specific method for prioritizing sites for installation. About 30% of the agencies said they use a systemwide analysis of sites throughout the agency; 17% of the agencies said installations occur on project corridors only. Nearly all agencies surveyed agree that the installation of an MPS or PHB would be considered on a roadway with a 45 mph or higher speed. There have been some questions on the applica- bility of beacons in higher-speed environments, so this is an important distinction to guide the development of language for inclusion in a future version of the MUTCD. Street lighting is often cited as having an important role in crosswalk safety. Adding illumi- nation can improve the visibility of the people attempting to cross the street. With respect to street lighting practices for signalized or unsignalized pedestrian crossings, 74% of agencies said lighting is currently available or would be provided at any marked crosswalk. Other agencies (9%) said lighting would be added when practicable, with only one agency saying a street lighting policy is not in place. In addition to street lighting, accessible pedestrian access ramps are needed. Detection for MPS/PHB Treatments The use of passive detection at midblock crossings has the potential to enhance the efficiency and improve the safety of the intersection for pedestrians and other users. The survey inquired about detection used. Inductive loops, video detection, microwave radar, and fisheye camera video detection were the four most common techniques identified for detecting automobiles and/or bicycles at traffic signals. Other methods of automobile detection at traffic signals were infrared cameras (including FLIR), Sensys, radar detection, and the combination microwave and video products (Iteris). Other techniques of bicycle detection at traffic signals include push buttons mounted near bicycle traffic and passive detection bollards. The two common standard techniques for detecting pedestrians at traffic signals are push buttons that meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements (86%) and accessible push buttons that address ADA and the needs of the blind community (56%). Less common pedestrian detection techniques given were fisheye camera video, pedestrian recall with audible signals, pedestrian recall for all shorter crossings, and thermal video detection. The use of push- button detection at MPSs was identified by nearly all the agencies (96%), with pedestrian recall (22%) and passive detection (9%) mentioned much less often. Display, Device Operations, and Performance The display of an MPS for the main street is similar to a traffic control signal (i.e., green, yellow, and red indications) and to the traditional half signal that no longer conforms to the current MUTCD. The display on the main street for a PHB only has yellow and red indications,

14 Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals since having no indication was considered more desirable than a green indication, and having a flashing yellow in addition to the steady yellow would attract the attention of motorists. The other benefit of the PHB was reduced side-street delay associated with the flashing red portion of the operation. Some of the agencies in the survey expressed concerns about the dark display and the inability to use a traditional conflict monitor to identify issues with the traffic control. With the MPS being midblock (or not an intersection), stop signs are not needed. An exception could be where stop signs are desired for bicycle traffic. The PHB (or HAWK signal) was used in the Portland, OR, Request to Experiment submitted in October 2005 to replace an existing half signal, retaining the stop sign for the side street at the intersection. The existing Los Angeles Department of Transportation MPS operation allows the flashing red to occur during the WALK indication, which differs from the PHB operation that has the main street stopped during the WALK, allowing a flashing red during the flashing DON’T WALK. With respect to typical MPS displays, 78% of the agencies reported their preference to have the main street operating with standard signal operation (i.e., solid red during the flashing DON’T WALK phase), and 22% of the agencies using MPS displays operate with a flashing red on the main street during the flashing DON’T WALK phase. Reasons given for not operating the main street with a flashing red include driver confusion, that a flashing red would be more like a HAWK treatment, and that a flashing red should only be used in malfunction conditions. Operation of the main street with a flashing red consistent with the PHB sequence is a primary question for further review. There was interest in learning more about the flashing red interval from some of the agencies, but many of the agencies cited concerns about this. The majority of agencies (78%) reported that the separation distance is the main factor considered when deciding to operate MPSs/PHBs in coordination with adjacent signals. Some agencies (30%) reported that the pedestrians at an MPS/PHB get an immediate response (i.e., a hot button or semi-hot button); nearly 22% of the agencies said pedestrians are only served in coordination. Other less common MPS/PHB operations were reported as pedestrians served in coordination depending on time of day, and pedestrian detection in conjunction with vehicle detection. The majority of agencies reported using a walk time of 7 seconds (per the MUTCD). Two agencies reported using walk times as low as 5 seconds. Three agencies reported using walk times of 8 seconds, 10 seconds, or an 8–10 second range. In Anchorage, AK, three specific walk times were identified as 10, 15, and 17 seconds. Though not specifically confirmed with each agency, it is suspected that walk times longer than 7 seconds may represent an increase based on engineering judgment in order to serve pedestrian demands and/or other site-specific needs. Consistent with the 2009 MUTCD (2), most agencies (78%) reported using a walking speed of 3.5 ft/s or the option walking speed of 4 ft/s (13%). Other walking speeds were reported as 2.5 ft/s, 3 ft/s, and 3.5 ft/s minus the signal clearance interval. Variations in walking speeds depended on the part of town (e.g., 2.8 ft/s in downtown Oklahoma City, OK) or nearby land uses such as schools/retirement facilities (e.g., in Pittsburgh, PA). Coordination of traffic signals is a common objective used by engineers to provide smooth flow of traffic along streets and highways to reduce auto travel times, stops, and delays. MPS/ PHB locations interrupt the flow of traffic on the main street to provide an opportunity for people to cross. The use of coordination may result in adverse impacts to people walking with longer cycle lengths resulting in higher delays (15). Agencies were asked what typical cycle length is used for their MPS/PHB locations, and the answers varied from 40 to 90 seconds. The intent of MPS/PHB locations is to increase safety for people walking, and it seems clear that the need for a display that encourages compliance is a motivation for many agencies. Many of the PHB locations are operated without coordination.

Survey of Public Agencies 15 Benefits of Treatments The final questions of the survey focused on the benefits the agency has experienced with MPSs or PHBs. Many of the participants highlighted the safety benefits and reduced crashes involving pedestrians. The answers were diverse, with a few agencies expressing concerns about the PHB and the public not understanding the display. There were also a few mentions that the 2009 MUTCD (2) guidance that the PHB should not be located at intersections is a barrier to use. The final part of the survey was to gather any additional comments participants had on the topic. Many respondents expressed thoughts about the lack of PHB understanding for motorists. The requirement of flashing the red during the flashing DON’T WALK was mentioned several times. Summary of Key Survey Findings Key findings from the survey are summarized in the following list. • Respondents were very knowledgeable of the technical issues associated with midblock crossings. Most of the respondents had more than 15 years of experience in the field. • All participants reported that safety was a primary goal for their agency, and 68% of respon- dents work in a Vision Zero community. • The PHB has had limited acceptance in some states (e.g., they are not allowed in Pennsylvania because legislative changes would be needed), but most respondents were familiar with the PHB or MPS. The familiarity with the MPS was quite high, with several agencies having more MPSs than PHBs. • Information about traffic control device timing and detection was helpful to understand details about the use of technology for operation. • The operation of the MPS and PHB was the subject of several comments and indicates the importance of writing guidelines that meet industry needs. Several agencies expressed concerns about the displays and sequence of indications being unique, and there is a desire to have flexibility to change to align with driver behavior. Driver education was also mentioned as a need.

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Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals Get This Book
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Midblock pedestrian signals (MPSs) provide safety benefits and support “complete streets,” a transportation policy and design approach that calls for roadways to be designed and operated with all users in mind: bicyclists, public transportation users, drivers, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program's NCHRP Research Report 1030: Safety at Midblock Pedestrian Signals presents a state-of-the-practice guide to midblock pedestrian crossing treatments, summarizes the safety effectiveness of MPS installations, and proposes language for consideration in future updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) for MPSs.

Supplemental to the report is a Memo on Implementation of the Research Findings.

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